Sedgwick County Commission issues only recommendations, restrictions on reopening lifted
After a slightly heated debate, the Sedgwick County Commission voted Wednesday not to impose additional limits on residents and businesses but recommended they continue to adhere to the phases and guidance in Gov. Laura Kelly's Ad Astra plan.
"I think that we owe it to Sedgwick County, we owe it to the healthcare workers and the frontline heroes who have been working diligently over the last ten weeks by staying the course," said Commissioner Lacey Cruse. "We have to continue a measured approach."
The recommendation was approved 3-2 with a modification that further defines public gatherings as "persons commonly known to one another and allow gatherings of up to 20 individuals." That's up from the 15-person gathering-size limit imposed by the governor in Phase Two of her plan which expired at midnight and gave Kansas counties the authority to decide how they plan to move forward.
According to Sedgwick County, hospitalizations are low and the county is reporting only a few new cases a day. Commissioner Pete Meitzner said at this point, business owners should be allowed to make their own decisions as the county moves forward.
"We just felt that it's time to take another positive step and let those industries determine themselves. Masks or not. Employers can require employers to wear masks. They can require their customers to wear masks like some businesses do," said Meitzner.
Wednesday's vote still recommends bars, nightclubs, swimming pools and summer camps to remain closed until June 8, when Phase Three of the governor's plan would have started, but Sedgwick County will not enforce any restrictions on these businesses if they reopen.
"There's nothing in here that says if you don't adhere to it, you're going to have the sheriff's department or the police department come and shut down your business," said Commissioner David Dennis. "The only thing that I can foresee that might be a negative is that if they don't adhere to the social distancing and the guidance that we put out, they're going to end up as a COVID-19 cluster."
Dr. Garold Minns, the lead health official in Sedgwick County, said adhering to the recommendations is how Sedgwick County has been able to keeps it's numbers low.
"I think any business that wants to open, they're going to have to address how they can facilitate that social distancing that we think has been partly the explanation for our success so far with this infection," said Dr. Garold Minns, the lead health official in Sedgwick County.
Commissioners James Howell and Michael O'Donnell voted against the recommendation stating that the economy needs to reopen now.
"Let's get on with it, let's get the economy back open, let's let people get back to their lives and have trust that individuals are going to make good decisions for themselves, their families and their neighbors," said O'Donnell.
"I think it's time for us to trust our citizens. They understand the risks. They understand what needs to be done. And I think that it comes down to personal responsibility," said Howell.
the state of Kansas could be returning to the same situation from mid-March in which each county has its own guidelines when it comes to plans for reopening businesses and placing restrictions to safeguard against COVID-19.
In Sedgwick County, the commission will have a meeting at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday (May 27) in which county leaders will have to decide if they want to change the existing guidelines set by Kansas Governor Laura Kelly in her
Tuesday, Sedgwick County Manager Tom Stolz joined Michael Schwanke for a live interview to discuss the county's situation and what commissioners will consider Wednesday. Ultimately, Stolz says, a decision on local guidelines moving forward, will come from collaboration between the commission and Sedgwick County Health Officer Dr. Garold Minns.
While COVID-19 numbers including overall cases and hospitalizations are key to what county leaders consider, Sedgwick County commissioners say they're also looking at the county's unemployment rate, which is currently at about 19 percent.
Eyewitness News on Tuesday also spoke with Kingman County commissioners who expressed relief to have control over local decisions again when it comes to COVID-19 related guidelines.
As of Tuesday, data from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment shows Kingman County hasn't yet had a confirmed positive case of COVID-19. Kingman County commissioners say the county has lost a lot of money as a result of closures and cancellations.
By Tuesday night, Harvey County was among the first Kansas counties to take action following the governor's decision. Harvey County announced for at least one more week (through June 2), it will will implement guidelines consistent with Phase 2 of Kelly's guidelines for reopening, but commissioners did agree to increase mass gathering limits in the county from 15 to 30.